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Prompt# 14 Stress Fracture by sgamadison

Title: Stress Fracture
Author: sgamadison
Prompt: #14 Photo Driftwood Shelter
Genre: Slash
Pairing: McShep
Word count: 5,198
Rating: R
Spoilers: Through Season 5
Warnings: Language
Disclaimers: Not mine. As if. I wish.

Summary: Rodney isn’t doing well, but John has A Plan

A/N: It’s been a rough month. This story is my way of working through that. Special thanks to vida_boheme for not only rendering an opinion (your story-analysis is always invaluable!) but also for providing the cool links (which are included at the end of this story).



Stress Fracture


Rodney fumbled with the lid of the pill vial, his fingers unusually thick and clumsy as he tried to open the childproof lid. His anger simmered under the surface like a steaming geyser; ready to boil over through the first available crack in his defenses. He gripped the sides of the lid firmly and he felt it start to turn, but it only made the click-click-click sound that indicated it was still spinning in the track. His hand slipped and the pills rattled within the vial. He came very close to snatching up a wrench and forcibly removing the lid, but even as his frustration built, the lid suddenly turned in his hand.

Finally.

He wasn’t sure why opening the bottle felt like such an accomplishment that he would actually feel relieved. It was not as if he had any great expectation of this medication helping all that much. The tightness in his neck and shoulders hadn’t responded to the mega-strength ibuprofen he’d taken earlier. The pain had been persistent for days now, and was starting to radiate down his arms. It usually wasn’t this debilitating—most of the time he was too absorbed in his work to notice it. As long as no one actually touched him, it wasn’t too bad. If he leaned forward on his desk, or brushed up against something, he was aware of a dull ache that centered in between his shoulders and ran straight up into the back of his head. It crept down his arms and ate into his bones. God forbid he try to lie down and sleep. There was simply no way to get comfortable. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been to the infirmary, either. He was no martyr, unlike some people he could name. The problem was that the prescribed solution was to stop doing everything he normally did. Yeah, like that would happen.

The worst part was that it was beginning to affect his ability to work—most notably, his ability to type. Guess you’d better make the voice recognition software for the database your next priority. Right. After the first thirty or forty things that absolutely had to be done first.

That’s not the only thing affecting your work. He shoved the thought into the corner of his mind where he put things he didn’t want to think about, like the cat he left behind so he could join the expedition to Pegasus. He didn’t think about that, like the way he didn’t think about people he’d been rude to, right before they died. Thinking about the death of colleagues was a dangerous path to walk down—one he sometimes started late at night when sleep eluded him. He’d had to learn to be ruthless with his memories. Pegasus had taught him that.

He tapped the rim of the bottle on his palm until a single tablet of tramadol rolled out to join the muscle relaxer already there. He’d had a couple of pills left over from the famous shot-in-the-ass incident; perhaps combined with a muscle relaxer and the ibuprofen he’d already taken, they’d allow him to get back to work. He placed the pills in his mouth, pursing his lips at the chalky, bitter taste of the methocarbamol, and hastily swallowed the remnants of cold coffee in his mug.

He burped, the aftertaste of coffee and medication sour in his throat. He froze in the middle of the reflexive action of sticking out of his tongue when the act seized up the muscles in his neck. Great. Unwrapping the two pieces of dark chocolate he’d found this morning on his desk, he hastily shoved them into his mouth. An appeasement offering to the angry god McKay, no doubt. He didn’t particularly care where they’d come from. Breakfast of champions.

He still had dirt under his fingernails. Two whole days and several soaking baths later, and the evidence of MZ5-2218 was still written on his skinned knuckles and the grime cutting deep in the lines on his hands.

He stood carefully, reluctant to fully waken the beast of pain. He tucked a data pad under one arm and took the empty mug with him to the sink to rinse it out. Miko and Rawlings were standing in the aisle, holding an animated discussion about some particular test result. They looked up at Rodney’s approach. Like panicked squirrels, they weaved back and forth, uncertain of which way to move in order to get out of his path.

Rodney took a deep breath and barked, “Pick a direction and move, people!”

The two women scattered, Rawlings shooting him a dark look of seething dislike as she did so. Rodney didn’t care. He was her boss, and if she wanted to get into a glaring match, he’d be happy to oblige.

He placed the pad on the counter next to the sink and reached for the faucet, feeling the pull of pain in his neck that ran all the way down to his wrist. Okay, this was bad, but it had been this bad before. He dismissed the notion that this current bout of arm pain might be cardiac in origin, because seriously, how many times could he take a stress test before they permanently banned him from the infirmary? This pain was nothing new—he’d gone through something similar when he was finishing up his first thesis and had spent hours each day at a keyboard or hunched over his project. He knew he’d been working too hard lately, putting in too many hours, never taking a day off. That was hardly new either—that was simply life in Pegasus. It wasn’t as though he had the luxury of saying ‘no thanks, I’ll sit this one out.’

The last couple of weeks had been chock full of crisis as well—near misses that had left him trembling in the aftermath of strain released. The chronic stress of living in Pegasus was one thing—the acute loading of additional weight on something under duress was designed to break things. He knew this. It was physics, pure and simple. Everything had a breaking point. Knowing this made no difference. It didn’t change the fact he needed to function every day. He had no choice but to keep going.

He rinsed out the mug mechanically and was in the act of setting it on the shelf by the coffee pot when he noticed the crack.

No. No, no, no. He lifted the mug up closer to peer into the interior. The hairline crack started at the bottom and ran partway up one side. Okay. Maybe that wasn’t so bad. He turned the mug over in his hands and saw that the crack extended through to the outside as well, splitting the words “I Need My Space” into a raw diagonal. Even as the rational part of his mind knew he was being stupid, his heart sank like a small, hard pebble thrown into a pond. No. Not this mug.

With a sigh, he looked at the interior again. There was no way this could be fixed. He’d probably set it down too hard at one point, or it had been clanked around in the dish rack when too many mugs had piled up during one of the critical times of crisis. The routine addition of hot liquids had caused the crack to expand along the stress lines—it was only a matter of time before it shattered during regular use. The only thing he could do to preserve the mug’s integrity was retire it altogether, a solution he found inexplicably depressing.

“Problem, McKay?”

He hadn’t heard John’s approach. Startled, he almost dropped the mug into the sink. Juggling the cup as it tumbled over in his hands, he managed to catch it before it hit the metal rim. “Goddamn it!” he snapped, once he was certain he had a good grip on the mug. He whipped his head around to glare at John, only to hiss and clutch at his neck when he did so.

“What have I told you about doing that ninja-pussy-foot thing here in the labs? One day you’re going to sneak up on the wrong person at the wrong time and then boom!” Rodney waved his hands for emphasis, outlining an explosion, only to stop when he realized he was waving the damaged mug about. He stood at stiff attention, guarding against the pain by hunching down into his shoulders.

John rested one hip against the counter. Honestly, it was a miracle that he’d ever advanced out of basic flight training because the man was incapable of standing up straight without support. He thought John would have thought twice about signing up with an organization that had a rigid stance on obeying orders and, well, rigidly standing.

“Don’t you think you’re over-reacting a bit?” John raised an eyebrow. He folded his right arm over the left, where it rested against his chest in a sling. He crossed his legs at the ankle. Rodney couldn’t help but notice how relaxed he looked, or how the ankle crossing turned John’s knee out and away from him, so that his thighs appeared open in invitation. Basic John operating mode, Rodney thought nastily. Lazily oozing charm regardless of the appropriateness of it or not. Even with his arm in a sling, he still looked as though he was ready for a roll in the sheets, or hay, the nearest field of clover, or wherever.

“You almost made me drop the mug. It happens to be one of my favorites and it’s already cracked.” Rodney’s voice felt as thought it might crack as well, and his next words were spoken with tight control. “I’m going to have to stop using it.”

John frowned, and Rodney could see that he didn’t get it. “Okay,” John said slowly. “So if you had dropped it, it would have been a big deal because…?”

“It’s my favorite mug.”

“Rodney, you’ve got dozens of mugs.” John looked around vaguely, as though they were standing on every available surface.

“No, no, I don’t. And besides, you gave me this one.” He held it up so that John could see it was the one from the Kennedy Space Center.

“That was a good trip.” His smile was slow and seductive; inviting Rodney to remember other things they did on that trip besides tour the Kennedy Center.

“Precisely.” Rodney’s irritation faded as he looked down at the mug in his hands. The little pebble of distress was back. “You gave this to me and I can’t use it anymore.”

“I can get you another mug, McKay,” John said. His voice was light and teasing, which somehow hurt all the more.

“It’s irreplaceable.” Rodney decided there was no point in keeping the mug in the labs now. Though no one else would dare touch his things, he might forget and use it himself. He’d just take it back to his quarters for safe-keeping. When he looked up at John, he was staring back at him with a quizzical expression. Rodney’s irritation flared up again. “Well, what did you want? I’m kind of busy.”

The eyebrow shot up once more, in what Rodney thought of as John’s ‘Oh really?’ face. “You seem a little tense lately. Well, more tense than usual. You wanna talk about it?”

“Did you come up with that observation all on your own, or are you taking direction from Teyla again? Talking’s really not your thing, you know.” Rodney lobbed his volley back with force, not caring if it stung.

John blinked, and stood up straight, unfolding himself until he was upright with his right hand resting lightly at his side. Inside the sling, the fingers of his left hand curled slightly. If anyone didn’t know him, they’d think this was a relaxed pose, but Rodney knew better. This was John unconsciously positioning himself for a fight.

“Teyla did mention you were being more of an asshole than usual. So did Ronon. And Radek. Shall I keep naming names?” John’s drawl wasn’t very pleasant. “How about I call Miko and Rawlings back in here—I saw the way you yelled at them just now.”

“I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately.” Rodney hated the way he sounded whiny and defensive. “More so than usual.”

“I thought you were taking a few days off?” The cut on the side of John’s cheekbone had barely been noticeable when they’d pulled him out from the rubble—everyone had been far more concerned about the possible broken arm and if he’d had a collapsed lung. The cut had needed suturing, however, and now was highlighted by a purple and yellow bruise. From this distance, it looked like a flower—as though John had been at a fair and had his face painted by one of the vendors.

“I would,” Rodney snapped, “only I can’t.” His anger kindled again, like hot embers on reaching dry timber. “Short of becoming ill, I can’t seem to drill it into the heads of my staff that I am on a leave of absence. Perhaps I should try converting into a bug. That seems to get you a decent amount of time off.”

John blinked again, and Rodney could tell that he still didn’t get it. How could he have ever thought John’s confused face was adorable? He wanted to take John by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattled. Until he shook John out of complacency. Until he shook some sense into him.

“Well,” John drawled in that infuriating manner of his, when he knew you were pissed but he didn’t think you ought to be, and so was not being very sympathetic. “It might help if you didn’t come down to the labs, for starters.”

“Yes, yes, why didn’t I think of that?” Rodney sneered. “Oh, right, maybe it’s because Radek and Haplin went off on a mission with Lorne’s team, once they realized I wasn’t going to be off-world myself. And since I wasn’t doing anything better with my time, they asked me to oversee Martinez’s refit of those two naquada reactors that need replacing. Which, of course, should have fallen to Heberling, only Heberling always seems to be conveniently ill when work of this nature comes up. Hence, my decision to become seriously ill myself. Or maybe I’ll just let something impale me through the abdomen. That ought to fetch me, what? Two, three days off, at least.” He could feel his blood pressure tick up a notch with every word, as the heat infused his face and his anger reached the boiling point again.

“You know you sound crankier than usual, right?” John made the squinty face at him.

Rodney wanted to scream. “Ya think?” he said in his most sarcastic imitation of Jack O’Neill.

John glanced around the lab, noting that everyone seemed to have tiptoed away. Still, he dropped his voice. “If this is about the other day…” He trailed off, obviously hoping Rodney would help him out here.

“It’s not about the other day.” Rodney let the exhaustion rise to the surface of his voice, where it floated in sharp, brittle pieces. “It’s about last week, and the week before, and the months and years before that. It is living every single day running as hard as I can to stay in one place, always behind, never getting ahead. There’s always something that needs my attention here. If I’m out in the field, then there are thirty things waiting for me when I get back to the city. Add the events of the other day on top of it, and I’m fried, John. Totally fried.” A burnt out power crystal had more juice than he did right now.

John frowned, still confused, god bless his little military mind. “But nobody died.”

“No, no, not this time. But I don’t ever wake up and think, ‘today is a good day to die.’ And unlike you, I don’t necessarily consider any landing you can walk away from a good landing.” He made the necessary finger quotes with one hand, careful not to raise his arm too high. “I stagger off the plane and my hands are shaking. I don’t ever want to fly again. I worry about the next time I have to fly and if it’s going to crash this time. Do you get it?”

“Just to be clear, the plane thing is a metaphor, right?”

Rodney shielded his face as he groaned. The groan became less theatrical and more real as his neck protested the tucking of his chin.

“I’m just kidding, McKay. I get it. You’re burned out. You need a break. Why don’t you take a few days and leave the city?”

Rodney reached out and tapped John on the forehead several times, wincing as he did so. “Hello!” he said as he tapped. He withdrew his hand and leaned back on his heels. “You do know me, right? Where exactly do you propose I go? That doesn’t require camping out or running for my life?” With a snort, he pushed past John, still protectively clutching his mug. “I’ll be fine, okay?”

“Where are you going?” John called out after him.

Rodney tried to look back, but came up short at the stab of pain in his neck. He twisted his shoulders so he could see John. “I’m late for a chiropractic appointment,” he said stiffly. Turning back for the door was a relief.

Even though he could feel John staring after him, he didn’t turn around.

****

“What the fuck do you want?” Rodney snarled when the door opened.

John straightened from where he’d obviously been leaning on the chime. “Come on, I’ve got a little mission over to the mainland, and I thought I’d take you with me.”

Rodney glanced at his watch and then glared at John again. He was wearing his oldest, most decrepit T-shirt and tatty boxers. He felt ridiculous, even though it was an hour when most normal people were asleep. “You’re not serious.”

“It’s not a mission mission,” John said, as if that made all the difference in the world. He somehow neatly sidestepped Rodney without appearing to do so. “Hurry up and get dressed.”

He tossed a T-shirt in Rodney’s direction. It hit him squarely in the face. Rodney pulled it off with a sigh. “It’s never ‘just a mission’ with you. I’m not going. It’s not even light yet.” He rolled his head and neck experimentally. Not too bad. The chiropractic adjustment the night before had returned mobility to his neck—a long hot shower and a night’s sleep had resolved much of the pain. Yay. Everything back to its usual, not-so-great self.

John grinned, boyishly excited. “I know. But this time it’s really a cake walk. Parrish needs some weeds checked on—he’d got this plot where he’s been conducting experiments. I’ve convinced him he doesn’t actually need to go himself—that you can take the measurements he needs. Come on, Rodney. We can sneak off for the day and no one will be able to harass you.”

“Ugh. No thank you,” Rodney said. John was using his ‘I’ve got a plan’ voice, and though a small part of him was tempted into seeing what that plan was, for the most part, he simply didn’t give a rat’s ass. “Outdoors all day in the blazing heat. At risk of sunstroke, if not worse. I’ll take my chances here, thank you very much.”

“You know they’ll never leave you alone if you stay here all day. Not even if you put on your grumpiest face.”

No, Sheppard. Read my lips.”

Aw, shit. Sheppard was going to do the puppy dog pout.

“We can hang out in the jumper if it gets too hot. Come on, Rodney. It’ll be fun.”

Dear lord, he was whining now.

“I packed a lunch.” John waggled his eyebrows, as though this was incentive enough.

“Lunch.” Rodney sniffed. “It’s barely even dawn. “What about breakfast?”

“That too.” John picked Rodney’s pants off the floor, shook them out, and handed them over to him. When Rodney accepted them with a long-suffering sigh, John began scouting for his shoes.

“There will be sand everywhere. I hate sand.”

“I’ve got a chess board, a cooler of beer, and lawn chairs. I downloaded the entire music database to the jumper, and we can bring your DVD player.” John got down on his knees and peered under Rodney’s bed, a small noise of triumph escaping him when he located Rodney’s shoes. The slight grunt he made when getting up was the only concession he made to the events of earlier in the week.

“I thought you were grounded.” Rodney frowned as John continued to hand him things to get ready. “I thought your arm was broken. Where’s your sling?”

“Going to check on a few weeds hardly counts as a mission, McKay. Doc cleared me to go. It’s just a stress fracture—the sling was to remind me not to use it. I’m fine. In fact, we’ve both been cleared to go, even ordered to go in your case.” John disappeared into Rodney’s bathroom and returned with Rodney’s special sunscreen. “Here, you’ll need this.”

“I thought you couldn’t fly on pain meds?”

“I stopped taking them.” Somehow, Rodney doubted that. John was moving awfully well for someone who’d had a cave collapse on him earlier in the week.

“What about the giant snakes?” Rodney asked. He set the pile of clothing down on the rumpled bed and swapped out the ratty T-shirt he was wearing for the slightly cleaner one that John had thrown at him.

“That’s the best part,” John said. He was ass-deep in Rodney’s closet, and emerged with a duffle bag. He tossed the sunscreen within and continued to rummage around in Rodney’s drawers while Rodney got dressed. “There’s this experimental equipment we’re supposed to test out. A rod we drive into the ground. It’s supposed to release a vibration that keeps the snakes away.” He sorted through some DVDs on the top of the dresser, shrugged, and swept them all into the bag.

“What moron came up with that idea? A giant vibrator?” Rodney groused. “With our luck, it will act like a mating call—or worse, it will piss every snake off on the mainland and there won’t be enough left of us to bury.”

“I dunno,” John said, pulling a hat out of a drawer. “The guy who designed it seemed to know what he was doing. He reminded me of you.”

Which means you thought he had a nice ass.

“Oh, I’m sure some guy on Earth has enough experience with giant snakes that he can design a safe snake deflector. Because, you know, the snakes on Earth get as big as the snakes here in Pegasus.” Rodney sat down on the edge of the mattress to put on his shoes, watching as John weirdly continued packing for him. “Not that hat, it makes me look like Lt. Provenza.”

“And this is a problem because…?” John seemed to be stuffing a lot more things in the duffle than he would normally do. Usually he was bitching at Rodney to travel light.

“Lt. Provenza. Seriously? You can’t think that old geezer is sexy.”

“Confidence is very sexy, McKay.” John hefted the duffle over his good shoulder, having packed the hat in question. “I think he’s got a thing for Flynn and is hiding it with all the ex-wives.”

Rodney shot him a look as he joined John at the door. Shooting dark looks was easier today—the ability to crank his head sideways and release an evil glare was possible now. “Is that a crack at me? Because I never actually married anyone, unlike some people I know.”

“Jumper’s waiting,” John said with a grin, ignoring Rodney’s question.

“Just so you know, I plan to sleep the whole way there.”

****

“Hey. Don’t you think it’s about time we headed back?” Rodney yawned as he looked down where John was kneeling in the sand.

Rodney had dozed off on the large blanket they’d spread by the tree line. The rustling of palm fronds overhead had provided a soothing harmony to the rolling tumble of waves on the shore. It was cool enough in the shade, and the breeze from the water had caressed his forehead like a mother’s kiss. Replete with the lunch that John had brought (packed no doubt, by Teyla, given the emphasis on fruit, cheese, and that hearty, Athosian bread), Rodney had been unable to hold out against slumber. Especially when John has also laid down beside him, adding the rhythm of his own breathing to the symphony of sound around them.

Several hours had passed according to his watch—more importantly, the sun was much lower on the horizon. The weeds had been dutifully inspected. There really had been an experimental snake deflector—John had set that up first thing, while Rodney had groused about flea traps and other ineffective means of pest control. Rodney had fretted and paced during the weed sampling, bored out of his mind, until finally, they’d brought the jumper to this quiet cove and John had set up a rough sort of camp. They’d spent the rest of the morning watching movies, and engaging in idle banter.

Which was all very fine and well, but it was time to go home now.

His tension still lay coiled within him. He was certain that he needed to get back to the city. There were bound to be at least forty emails in his inbox now and ninety percent of them would involve things he needed to deal with before the day was up.

“What are you doing?” Rodney added, frowning as he surveyed John’s weird little project.

He’d obviously been up for a while, collecting driftwood while Rodney slept. He had gathered an impressive pile, the curved, gray wood stacked like some bizarre piece of modern art. He’d cobbled together a sort of frame, and was slowly building a kind of haphazard shelter, like a house of cards.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” John asked. Rodney could hear the grin in his voice, even though he did not look up from his task. He had stripped down to raggedly cut-offs shortly after their arrival, and was now wearing nothing over them but a red and black checked cotton shirt, worn thin by repeated washings and unbuttoned in the stifling heat out here on the open sand. He held two pieces of driftwood braced against his abdomen and was lashing them together with long blades of sea grass.

“Wasting time. If you wanted to build a tree house, it’s best to put the frame in the trees first.”

John snorted and securely tied the final knot, getting to his feet and carrying the wood over to the frame. Sand clung to the backs of his calves. He’d abandoned his shoes early on as well, despite Rodney’s admonitions about the risk of parasites. Rodney tried to remember the last time he’d walked barefoot in the sand and he couldn’t. The sand was too hot anyway. And, as he well knew, the risk of parasites in Pegasus was no joke.

John placed the cobbled together siding against the top part of the A frame and used another piece of grass to tie it into place.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to be using that arm.”

“Using it is fine. Just not doing something stupid.” He threaded the grass through the uneven slats formed by the driftwood and tied the new piece down.

“Are you sure you know the difference?”

“Funny man. Don’t give up your day job, Bob Hope.”

“Seriously, how is a fractured arm supposed to heal if you keep using it?” Rodney knew he sounded peeved, but damn it, he was.

John continued to play with his giant house of cards. The breeze caught one edge of his shirt, revealing more bruising along his ribcage. “You need a little inflammation in order to heal. Too much restriction and there’s no trigger for new cells to move in. The secret is not to push it too far. Jockeys ride with broken legs all the time. Hell, once I did a skied a run in a downhill competition—I just didn’t know I had a stress fracture at the time.”

“You’re making that shit up,” Rodney said, folding his arms over his chest. If he stayed out on the beach much longer, he’d need to shed some clothes. “That sounds like some sort of military bullshit—you’ve obviously been spending too much time with the Marines again. You’d say anything if it got you out of the infirmary and back in the pilot’s seat—whether or not you should be there. Speaking of which, obviously, you’re bored too, so come on. Let’s go back to the city.”

John continued to tie the wood down. “You’re bored?” His voice was casual.

“Not bored bored.” Rodney huffed. “I just know that we need to get back soon, and I’m not looking forward to finding out what fresh disasters are waiting for me, okay? We’ve wasted enough time here today as it is.”

John gave the piece of wood a final pat and headed back for another. Rodney watched him in some confusion.

“Yeah, about that.” John weighed the merits of a particular piece of driftwood and discarded it, choosing another. “We’re not going back. Not yet, anyway.”

“What?” Rodney felt a spurt of alarm. “Tell me you’re joking.”

“Nope.” John went back to the driftwood shack. “No joke. We’re not going back until you’re good and ready.”

“I’m ready already!” Rodney threw his hands up in the air for emphasis. “Ha-ha. You’ve had your fun. We’ve had a nice, relaxing day in the sun and I’m all better now. See?” Rodney pointed over his shoulder and took a few steps in the direction of the jumper. When John didn’t follow, he got angry.

“Fine. Stay here and play Boy Scout for all I care. I’m taking the jumper back to the city.”

“Can’t,” John said, somehow having turned into Gary Cooper while Rodney slept. Rodney half-expected him to push a cowboy hat back off his brow and scratch his head. “Disabled the jumper. Hid the parts.”

“Are you freaking insane?” Rodney began to steam. “Did it ever occur to you even once to ask me if I wanted to be stuck out here on the beach all night? No, no, it didn’t because the Great John Sheppard’s plans always turn out right.”

Without another word, Rodney turned on his heel (not easy to do definitively on sand) and stomped back to the jumper.

****

It was after nightfall before he gave up and rejoined John on the beach. Whatever John had done to disable the jumper, he’d done a good job. Rodney couldn’t by-pass it and he’d tried. Boy, did he try. Nothing would have pleased him more than to be able to take off, leaving John stranded behind for one of the marines to pick up later. Oh, how he would have laughed at that. Instead, he was forced to admire how John had neatly circumvented his every move, anticipating and blocking any efforts Rodney might make to hot wire the jumper.

An angry transmission to Atlantis had resulted in Chuck informing him that until he heard otherwise from the Colonel, Rodney was cut off from all communications.

“What if something terrible has happened to the Colonel and he can’t speak to you?” Rodney had asked.

“Has something terrible happened to the Colonel?” Chuck had countered, disbelief rampant in his voice.

“Not yet, but it will,” Rodney had promised darkly.

Chuck shouldn’t have laughed, but he did. He’d also cut Rodney off when he demanded to be patched through to the Woolsey. Chuck didn’t know it, but he’d just moved to the top of Rodney’s shit list, and that wasn’t a good place to be.

The smell of frying fish lured him out of the jumper at last.

Overhead, the stars were just beginning to come out. John had a strong fire going—as Rodney approached sparks flew up into the night sky in a tiny show of fireworks. John had created a makeshift grill out of rocks and had precariously balanced an iron skillet over them. As Rodney sat down beside him, he could see the floury handprints John had left behind on his shirt from breading the fish fillets.

“Smells good,” Rodney said, by way of apology for his behavior earlier. “How’d you catch them?”

“With patience, art, and skill,” John declared, using a spork to push the fillets around in the sizzling oil.

“Meaning they just happened to wash up in a tidal pool and you snagged them.” Rodney smelled tormack too, but he didn’t see it anywhere.

John chuckled. “Something like that. You hungry?”

For an answer, Rodney picked up one of the plates John had set by the fire, dusted off the sand, and held it out.

“Hang on.” John picked up a pair of tongs and plunged them into the fire, retrieving several round objects covered in wet leaves from beneath the coals.

Baked tormack, it would seem. “Well, they certainly won’t kick you off the island,” Rodney said as he allowed John to heap fish and tormack on his plate.

“Survivor Pegasus? That’s one episode of Survivor I’d like to see.” John handed Rodney a saltshaker, which he took with a sense of relief that John hadf thought to pack it. He seasoned his food and handed it back.

“Would make the show a lot more interesting. ‘For your first challenge, you must eat an Iratus bug—before it eats you.’ The Wraith would give a whole new meaning to ‘the tribe has spoken’, too. I’d never make it past the first tribal council, though.” The truth of this depressed Rodney suddenly. For a moment, it was as though he was back at the SGC, receiving his transfer orders to Siberia.

“Sure you would, Rodney.” The assurance in John’s voice was rock solid.

“Oh, really.” Rodney didn’t bother to hide his disbelief. “What makes you so sure about that?”

“Well,” John drawled, gingerly testing a piece of fish and crunching his way through it when it proved cool enough to eat. “After you saved the day a few times, everyone would realize how stupid it would be to kick you off the island. We’re not talking about winning a million dollars here. We’re talking about staying alive. If they were too dumb to see how valuable you were to the tribe, well, I wouldn’t let them kick you off.”

“You wouldn’t, eh? Neat trick that.” He poked at the tormack, releasing steam into the night air.

“Piece of cake,” John said decisively. “I’d talk everyone into keeping you. People seem to like me. Well, most people, if you discount commanding officers. And if that didn’t work, Teyla, Ronon, and I would form an alliance and keep you on.”

Rodney started to laugh; only it occurred to him that this might indeed have already happened on more than one occasion. He said nothing and continued eating, blowing on his food to cool it first.

“How long are we staying out here?” he asked at last.

“As long as it takes,” John replied. “You want to tell me about it?”

“Tell you about what?”

John gave up chasing the fish with the spork and grabbed it with his fingers. “Why this time was so much worse than the others. Why you aren’t coping. Why the mug is so important.” He folded the crispy fish into his mouth and licked his fingers.

The mug. Rodney had almost forgotten the mug. Appetite gone, he set his plate down. He clasped his hands around his knees and hugged them tightly.

“I don’t know. I wish I could tell you. I just know that I’m pissed, really pissed with almost everyone I know. I’m snarling at the people in the mess hall. I’m furious with Radek and the rest of the science teams. I’m mad with myself. I know I’m not coping well and I don’t have a goddamned clue how to fix it. It’s not like anything is going to change.”

He picked up a stick and began to poke at the fire, sending sparks flying upward once more.

“Rodney,” John began, “you know that it’s risky for all of us, not just me.”

“I know, I know!” Rodney tossed the stick down with force, feeling a slight twinge in his shoulder when he did so. “But you know, most of the time, we don’t get to listen to you slowly dying for hours and hours!”

“I didn’t die,” John pointed out gently.

“We didn’t know that at the time. We could hear you over the com link. Could hear how much it hurt to breathe, hear every time you coughed, and the pain it triggered. Here we are with all the technology in the universe, and we were still forced to dig you out by hand. Knowing you were going to run out of air before we reached you. No matter how fast we worked, no matter how much rock we shifted. If the Daedalus hadn’t arrived when it did…”

“But it did. I don’t know why you are so upset by this now.”

He was trying, he really was. It never failed to amaze Rodney how easily John seemed to put the things that happened to him behind him. Bet he has a place where he keeps things he doesn’t want to examine too closely as well.

“Why do you call it a near-miss when two planes almost collide?” Rodney knew that by changing the subject, he’d get John’s WTF face, and he did.

John’s expression was illuminated by the flickering glow of the fire. Rodney could clearly see the raised eyebrow. “Well,” he drawled, also on cue, “the planes missed each other, right? But it was close, so it’s a near miss.”

“Why not a near hit? Wouldn’t that be more accurate?”

“Accurate, but not something pilots like to think about.” John’s smile flashed brilliantly for a moment before subsiding, lingering about his lips as he set his plate down. He absently wiped his fingers on his cut-offs. “I’m not a cracked mug, Rodney.”

Rodney caught his breath.

“Yeah, I gave it to you, and yeah, it has some sentimental value, but the mug is not me. Nothing is going to happen to me just because the mug breaks.”

Rodney pressed his lips together in a firm line, feeling the burn of tears behind dry eyes. He scowled to keep them in check. He didn’t cry damn it. Especially over a goddamn piece of ceramic.

“We should have brought Ronon and Teyla.” Rodney changed the subject again. “They would’ve enjoyed this whole getting back to nature thing you have going on here.”

Now it was John’s turn to pick up a stick and poke at the fire. “I thought we could use a little alone time. I knew they’d understand.”

Rodney felt a dull ache of dismay settle in his gut. “Um, I’m not really—you know—in the mood for any sort of…” Rodney trailed off, his hand waffling in the air.

The look John gave him was almost severe. “You think I want to hang out with you strictly because of the sex? You don’t know me very well then, McKay.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, it’s just I’ve been so, you know…” Rodney’s shoulders slumped. He was so bad at this. It was a wonder Sheppard hadn’t left him for someone else long ago.

Instead, John lifted his good arm, making room for Rodney to slide around the fire and sit beside him. John’s arm was warm against his back, and his skin smelled of salt water and sunscreen. Rodney relaxed against him with a sigh.

“Though I was planning to show you my giant snake later on,” John added solemnly.

Rodney punched him gently in his side. John mock-winced dramatically just the same.

****

They returned to Atlantis a few days later. Despite his best efforts, Rodney managed to get sunburned on the back of his neck. His skin itched, and he knew it was only a matter of time before it started to peel. He was sticky with dried saltwater, and there was sand in places he didn’t even want to think about.

He felt better than he’d felt in months.

Teyla was one of the first to greet them when they arrived back in the city.

“John, Rodney,” she said with a large smile, balancing Torren on one hip. “You look well. It is good to see you again.” Torren ducked his head into Teyla’s shoulder and refused to look at them, obviously going through a shy phase. Past experience told him it was best to ignore Torren in this mood, and wait for him to interact on his own terms.

“Show me the way to the coffeemaker and no one gets hurt.” Rodney said, but he smiled as he said it. “Can you believe he made me ration my coffee? Surely that counts as cruel and inhumane punishment, right?”

A small furrow formed on Teyla’s perfect brow. She looked at John. “I thought I gave you the recipe for Athosian spiced tea?”

“You did, you did,” John said, tossing a duffle bag at Rodney and then pretending his arm hurt when Rodney declined to take it. He smiled when Rodney hoisted the bag, and he picked up his own. “But see, I had a hard time getting all the ingredients, so I had to make some substitutions.”

Rodney glanced in his direction. “That was supposed to be spiced tea? I thought they were margaritas.”

John gave him the ‘shut up, Rodney’ look as clearly as if he’d spoken the words aloud.

Torren looked up from underneath long lashes and gave John a sweet smile. John winked back at him.

“No matter,” Teyla said smoothly. “I am glad that you have returned.”

She leaned forward and kissed Rodney on the cheek, which surprised and touched him at the same time.

Lorne caught up with John just outside the landing bay, and Rodney left John to pick up the reins of his Colonely duties again. He couldn’t wait to take a long bath and shed his sandy clothing.

He ran into Ronon in the hallway outside his room. “Next time you get pissed, come find me. Hitting stuff helps me relax.”

“Um, thanks, big guy, but I really don’t think having you punch the stuffings out of me is going to make me feel better just now.”

“Hitting things, not you,” Ronon clarified, and then gave him a Gibbslap that reminded Rodney he still had some residual neck pain. Over all, he was better though, and ready to go back to work.

“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.” He waved Ronon off as he reached the door to his quarters. He couldn’t help the small sense of relief he felt when he stepped inside his room. Ah, home sweet home. A hot bath, clean, sand-free sheets, his custom-made orthopedic mattress…Yes, he was going to miss those warm nights on the beach, lying next to John in the makeshift shelter. Staring into the fire until it died down to glowering embers. Waking to a cold dawn, and the sight of John digging for clams with his bare toes in the wet sand along the shore. Still, it was good to be back in the civilized world once more.

He entered his quarters and dropped the duffle on the floor, yawning and stretching as he turned.

He froze when he saw them. The coffee mugs. They were everywhere. On his desk. On his nightstand. On his dresser.

He walked over and picked up the first one. It read “Parallel lines meet if you bend them.”

Hah. John’s idea of humor.

The next one was perfectly blank on the plan white exterior, but on the inside, the black surface boldly exclaimed “Suck it up!” Rodney felt his face heat up at the various implications of that one.

The mug on his dresser made him snort with laughter. Somehow, he doubted Ronon would see the humor of “Chewie is my co-pilot.”

He smiled at the silhouette of a small airplane and the word “Flyboy” underneath.

There was even one in the bathroom. The cheeky “Keep Calm, I’m a Pilot” was an attitude that was only all too familiar.

It was the one beside his bed that made him sit down. He picked it up and turned it over carefully in his hands. The mug claimed to interpret pilot hand signals, all of which were the same ‘thumbs up’. By the time he read through “Everything’s okay,” “Yep, I’m that cool,” and “I hope you didn’t see that landing,” he knew the truth of it.

He knew why John always said he was fine in response to just about everything. From the missions that had gone disastrously wrong, to the crazy and unbelievable things that had happened to him—getting trapped in a time-dilation field, being Wraith-fed when tortured by Kolya, almost turning into a bug, almost blowing up in a kamikaze run on a Hive ship.

He was fine because he was still here. Today. All that mattered was how Rodney dealt with the one particular moment that he was granted right now. He could accept it and treasure it for what it was, or he could waste it worrying about future loss.

Rodney placed the mug back on the nightstand and dug his radio earpiece out of his duffle bag. He placed the ear bud in his ear, giving it the little half twist it needed to seat down properly.

Everything would be okay. He had everything he needed right here. The city, the work, the people. Everything he’d ever thought he’d wanted was nothing compared to what he had right now.

He radioed John. The mug was still in his hand as the smile spread slowly across his face.

~fin





The mugs, in order of appearance:

From the Kennedy Space Center:
http://www.thespaceshop.com/inemyspmug.html


To annoy Rodney
http://mathematicianspictures.com/images_mugs/CCMUG_188H_MATH_ST_PLMB_255.jpg

Hard to predict from the outside - full of tough love
http://www.thinkgeek.com/images/products/frontsquare/e36e_suck_it_up_mug.jpg

Star wars geek/hair humour/Ronon
http://www.cafepress.co.uk/+whos_scruffy_looking_mug,457074395
http://www.cafepress.co.uk/+chewie_is_my_copilot_mug,263345291

Just what it says on the tin
http://www.cafepress.co.uk/hacdesigns.509168893

Our Dorky Hero
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Keep-Calm-PILOT-Mug-cup/dp/B004X34C6S

Interpreting Pilot hand signals:
http://www.cafepress.com/+hand_signals_mug,341693933

Comments

( 75 comments — Leave a comment )
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hoktauri
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:28 am (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely! I love all the mugs at the end! I went into complete "AAWWWW!!" mode when Rodney started reading them. SO PERFECT. John wins Rodney's heart all over again by proving that, unlike the mug, Rodney can mend when he's broken. I also love Rodney's realization that his team has been "keeping him on the island" for a while now. Yay team!
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 11:51 am (UTC)
I hadn't really put it into those terms--though I wanted to get across to Rodney that he was a living system with the power to mend. I'm so glad this message came through and that you picked up on it--thank you!
altyronsmaker
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
haha! Tol' you! your ficlets are like... something other people slave over. 5000 words later.... :D

Loved this. Though I wanted to smack Rodney for being an unbearable son of bitch at the beginning. Not so much for BEING one, but for being obtuse about the fact that he was being one.

and John. Gearing up for a fight, and NOT taking the swing when Rodney lobbed those salvos his way. Better man than I, for sure.

I like how John gets what's going on and how he maneuvers Rodney into chillin' the hell out. I like how he understands and gives Rodney the space needed to be a son of a bitch, but still calls him on his shit.

And the end! Margaritas will cure anything, I firmly believe that. *nods emphatically* Teyla offers her solution, then Ronon offers his, and the MUGS! MY HEART!

so cool. Thanks for sharing this one. :D
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 11:52 am (UTC)
You are being very kind here--another person might suggest I suffer from an inability to keep anything short and simple! :-)

And the end! Margaritas will cure anything, I firmly believe that. *nods emphatically* Teyla offers her solution, then Ronon offers his, and the MUGS! MY HEART!

This made me smile--that's exactly what I was going for--thank you!
esteefee
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:43 am (UTC)
aw, Rodney. he loves the stress, I think, but too damned much so he's never learned how to switch off, ever. and now he's in a place where he needs to learn. so glad he has John, and that John figured out the real stress point.

loved the part about near misses.

and this: “What about the giant snakes?” Rodney asked.

made me laugh!
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 11:55 am (UTC)
Hey, they would bug me and besides, I couldn't resist a BvP reference. :-)

The 'near-misses' thing has always struck me as kind of odd, too.

There are people who thrive on stress, and I do think Rodney is one of them, but you can OD on it too!

I'm glad I could make you laugh :-)
(no subject) - esteefee - Sep. 3rd, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sgamadison - Sep. 3rd, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
shaddyr
Sep. 2nd, 2011 05:24 am (UTC)
*LOVES*
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 11:56 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you!
sherry57
Sep. 2nd, 2011 06:22 am (UTC)
Excellent!! If I quoted all my favourite parts, I'd have to copy and paste the whole story!
I just love this friendship and how well John knows and understands Rodney, can interpret his extra bad temper for what it is. He cares soooo much.....I'm just jealous as life must be much easier to survive, even in Pegasus, having someone that cares that much around!!!

Nice, watm, mellow feeling.....thanks hon.
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 11:57 am (UTC)
I just love this friendship and how well John knows and understands Rodney, can interpret his extra bad temper for what it is.

I think this is what attracts me to these two more than anything else. I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thank you!
zinfic
Sep. 2nd, 2011 06:51 am (UTC)
Lovely! I can so sympathise with Rodney here, that feeling of being completely overwhelmed all the time and never ever being able to get ahead. Thank god for good friends who can act as a pressure valve!

Also, I might have to go on a mug shopping spree...
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
Thank god for good friends who can act as a pressure valve!

Amen to that. Pressure-cooker events have a way of pointing out where your cracks are--but where your friends are too. I'm imminently grateful for my friends right now. :-)


Also, I might have to go on a mug shopping spree...
You and me both--and I don't even drink coffee!
sarahj2222
Sep. 2nd, 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
So sweet...Thank you.
I thought Rodney prefered fine crystal-- not!
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:01 pm (UTC)
*snort* Well, maybe under the right circumstances--like when he's wearing a tux...

I'm so pleased you liked it--thank you!
londonsabre
Sep. 2nd, 2011 07:34 am (UTC)
A gorgeous ending to a gorgeous fic!!
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :-)
starry_diadem
Sep. 2nd, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
I love how you've shown exactly how it feels to be caught in that sort of stress - where every little thing magnifies itself up to be a huge humongous deal-breaker; where you're so tense that every muscle and bone is *thrumming* with it until you think you're going to vibrate out of your skin; where every well meaning attempt to jolly you out of it has you screaming with frustration. In that place, a cracked mug suddenly is the end of the world, is the proverbial straw meeting the camel's back. I hope that helped with a bit of catharsis after the last couple of weeks.

A lovely story. John's patience and understanding was just what Rodney needed. And this line?
“Though I was planning to show you my giant snake later on,” John added solemnly.
Perfection.

But I love how through the metaphor of mugs - of china mugs! sheer brilliance - you get Rodney having his epiphany about John and how to deal, how to capture his one tiny moment of *now* and leave the future to itself.

Beautiful.
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
I love how you've shown exactly how it feels to be caught in that sort of stress - where every little thing magnifies itself up to be a huge humongous deal-breaker; where you're so tense that every muscle and bone is *thrumming* with it until you think you're going to vibrate out of your skin; where every well meaning attempt to jolly you out of it has you screaming with frustration.

That is a lovely sentence in and of itself--and sums up the feeling much better than I did. Yes, that's it *exactly* :-)

I hope that helped with a bit of catharsis after the last couple of weeks.
It did, which is just as well because I don't have a John to kidnap me for a couple of days. (Come to think of it, though, I'd handle that every badly. WHAT ABOUT THE ANIMALS???)

But I love how through the metaphor of mugs - of china mugs! sheer brilliance - you get Rodney having his epiphany about John and how to deal, how to capture his one tiny moment of *now* and leave the future to itself.
*beams* Thank you!
perfica
Sep. 2nd, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
The perfect feel-good fic for people who have had horrible, horrible days.
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
You made me realize I just wrote my own comfort fic! *facepalm*

Well, I guess I needed a little comforting. :-) I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thank you!
vida_boheme
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC)
You know I loved it, but I just wanted to say again how wonderfully you worked this idea into a story - especially the mugs! :heart:
sgamadison
Sep. 2nd, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
Your speedy location of such perfectly-apt mugs made it a story, m'dear. Before that it was just one long ranty-Mcrant! You have no idea how much I appreciate and value your input! *hugs and hearts*
stella_pegasi
Sep. 2nd, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
It's been one of those weeks as well...I could really use a John Sheppard to get me to chill out...(well, could use that anytime!) Love your dialog between our acerbic scientist and the colonel...really great.

And the mugs....I love the stuff cafepress has but have never checked out all the mugs...so clever.

Enjoyed!!
sgamadison
Sep. 3rd, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
I owe the mug links strictly to vida_boheme :-) I asked her to provide links with mugs that John would use and she intuitively knew where I was headed and provided me with these (and more--I had to narrow them down a bit!)

I'm so glad you enjoyed it--thank you! I love, love, love your icon here, BTW!
goddess47
Sep. 2nd, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC)
Awwww....

It's too easy to let all of those worries get to you... and, yes, John has a place he sticks those things he doesn't want to think about. I suspect his has a bigger fence than Rodney's does....

So nice...
sgamadison
Sep. 3rd, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, I picture John's vault of Things He Doesn't Think About as being a special room behind the Great Wall of Sheppard! :-)

I'm so pleased you liked it--thank you! ♥
danceswithgary
Sep. 2nd, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
Just wonderful and I wish everyone could have a John Sheppard to de-stress with. :-D
sgamadison
Sep. 3rd, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
I get the feeling he'd know how to have a good vacation! Me, I'm still working on that... :-)
cimmerdeux
Sep. 2nd, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story. I especially liked the fact that it was a grown up relationship; my partner needs a break, that does not mean sex fixes everything, it means my partner needs a break, thank you. (Although I'm sure sex ensued off camera at a later date on the beach lol). I liked how John had 'gotten' Rodney before Rodney 'got' John (lovely pilot hand signals mug). I liked the bit about Rodney trying not to think about the people he'd been rude to before they died, he really does have a soft center he's just learned to have it not get in the way of business but it's still there.

Liked the little bits with Teyla and shy Torren and tea being altered to margaritas. I liked Ronan offering to hit things with Rodney. That's family for you.

As an aside, I fear for Chuck. lol Thanks.
sgamadison
Sep. 3rd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
As an aside, I fear for Chuck. lol Thanks.

Chuck should be afraid, very afraid. ;-)

I enjoy the idea of Lorne ordering the mugs, and Ronon and Teyla decorating John's room with them, and Chuck seeing that they stayed on the mainland, and Radek keeping things in the labs down to a dull roar... *grins*

I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I think sex is an important part of stories about relationships and I tend to include such scenes in most of my stories--but I didn't want anyone, like Rodney, to think that it was all about the sexin'! :-)
Thank you!
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